The statistics on cyber-crime relating to children are sobering, for both parents and programmers. 70% of children have accidentally encountered pornography online, and almost 20% of tweens, kids aged between nine and twelve, have received an email or online request for a photograph or video that made them feel uncomfortable
It's the responsibility of anyone online to work for the safety of all kids. Thankfully, there are some things that both website design engineers and parents can do to help kids safely navigate the choppy Internet waters related to bullying as well as crime.
Pay attention to what kids are doing online
Parents need to pay attention to what kids are doing online. Sometimes, parents struggle to find appropriate boundaries between feeling like they're denying their kids privacy and worrying that their kids will get into inappropriate situations online.
When parents struggle to figure out where to lay the boundaries for their kids, resources like safeguards for kids can help them understand what they should watch out for. If you're designing a website that might be for kids, it's good to know what will trigger kids to think a website isn't safe.
Talk about good Internet citizenship
Parents talk to their kids on a regular basis about how to be good citizens; we teach kids not to grab toys from other people, to use words instead of fists to resolve conflicts, and remind them of the Golden Rule. These lessons are reinforced in classrooms and other social situations.
Just like we teach kids to be proactive about being a good role model in day to day life, we need to explicitly teach them how to be good citizens of the Internet. Even just sharing expectations - that kids won't ask for or send nudes, that they'll stay out of websites that say they don't have kid-appropriate content, and that they'll come to their parents if anything online leaves them feeling uncomfortable - can go a long way.
Be aware of changing media recommendations
Just like we struggle to understand what makes up a proper modern diet, the recommendations for how much time kids should have in front of screens or online has been adjusted as we learn more on the effect that technology has on our kids and our society. It's the responsibility of parents to understand and apply those guidelines to their families. It's the responsibility of designers and programmers to be aware of those guidelines when they create websites that are for the use of children, to make sure that they're not at the bare minimum not directly contradictory.
Teach kids about signs that a website is dangerous
Adults who are familiar with the Internet and web browsing tend to have a list of criteria in mind that let them know a website has the potential to be dangerous. Repetitive popups, spammy content, or out of date web design all make us consider if we should click away or look for another source for the information we want.
It's important for us to teach our kids the same signs and signals of dangerous web design. After all, most people learned the hard way to avoid spammy links or clicking on pop-up ads. We need to show kids how to avoid these things, and what to do if they accidentally click on them. As designers, it's important to avoid these baity tactics, not just for kids, but for web citizens of all ages.
Teach kids about what information is safe to share online
Many children go through a phase where they relay all their personal information to every stranger they meet, and most parents go through a phase of reminding their little ones not to tell the nice person on the bus where they live just because they know it now.
Unfortunately, teaching kids the signs of online predators is much more subtle. It's unlikely that kids will be asked for their name, address, and where they go to school, but it is highly likely that predators will look for ways to mine that information in order to get closer to children.
As digital-design engineers, this presents a unique challenge when creating websites that will be used by kids. Especially if you're planning a profile based experience, how do you collect enough information without triggering concerns about safety? Some solutions might include having a profile based on a teacher or parent's information, or asking for minimal, non location specific information to help identify the child.
Parents play a huge role in keeping kids safe online, but those of us who design websites and content also need to be aware of those challenges and make the job easier for parents, instead of more difficult.